Monday, August 27, 2012

Chesterton and the Critics' Cliche

The word cliche is the French vocable for a stereotype printing plate. Its function is to reproduce the likeness of a given object over and over again. A cliche does not give an altogether truthful picture of that object. for one thing, a cliche is never more than two-dimensional; for another, it is not alive - once cast, it will never change. And even the best cliche is never more than a rough approximation of the real thing. (Uwe Siemon-Netto, The Fabricated Luther, p. 22)

So Dr. Uwe Siemon-Netto informs us in the beginning of his seminal book on Luther's alleged anti-semitism, The Fabricated Luther. And while this post has little to do with Luther it has everything to do with another cliche common among critics of Christianity. I hear it all the time on college campuses, among so-called atheist intellectuals. And thanks to Dan Brown and his fictional books this argument has resurfaced like an outdated U-boat, waiting for someone to show up with the Enigma decryption codes and blow it out of the water.

It usually sounds something like this: "Christianity only gained strength, popularity and converts because of Emperor Constantine, his political power and influence and the ensuing support Christianity received from the government institutions, etc. etc. etc."

Never mind that Christianity was flourishing underground for the previous centuries before coming out of the catacombs into the cathedrals (and probably would have had it continued to be persecuted in the same manner). Never mind that Christianity was less interested in political power and more in the power of the Gospel to save; the message that has little regard for political correctness: Christ Crucified.

Every time I encounter this argument I have usually tried to steer the conversation back to the 1st century A.D. and the evidence of the resurrection. Sometimes this is easier said than done. Nevertheless that's where apologists should spend their time. But I've always wanted to find a short and simple way to both dismiss this alleged claim and move on to more important matters without spending an entire afternoon talking about Constantine instead of Christ, Roman history instead of Jesus' evidentially verifiable work in history.

And I think I've found it, at last, the Davinci Code breaker, an apologetic cipher: G.K. Chesterton. Many apologists have answered this very same objection and critique of Christianity before. Many have even done so winsomely and effectively. But none so simply and swiftly as Chesterton does in The Everlasting Man.  As if he predicted this resurgence of popular myths surrounding Christianity, he writes in response to this common cliche.

First, he frames the objection in a much more prosaic fashion than I have above:

"Christianity did not really rise at all; that is, it did not merely rise from below; it was imposed from above. It is an example of the power of the executive, especially in despotic states. The Empire was really an Empire; that is, it was really ruled by the Emperor. One of the Emperors just happened to be a Christian...when he adopted it [the Christian faith] it became the official religion of the Roman Empire; and when it became the official religion of the Roman Empire, it became as strong and as universal and invincible as the Roman Empire..." (Chesterton, The Everlasting Man, p. 145)

Then he goes on to refute this by calling on, of all people, the heretics to disprove the critics:

"Arius advanced a version of Christianity, which moved, more or less vaguely, in the direction of what we should call Unitarianism; though it was not the same, for it gave Christ a curious intermediary position between the divine and the human. The point is that it seemed to many more reasonable and less fanatical; and among these were many of the educated class in a sort of reaction against the first romance of conversion. Arians were a sort of moderates and a sort of modernists. And it was felt that after the first squabbles this was the final form of rationalized religion into which the civilization might settle down. It was accepted by Divus Caesar himself and became the official orthodoxy; the generals and military princes drawn from the new barbarian powers of the north, full of future, supported strongly. But the sequel is still more important. Exactly as modern man might pass through Unitarianism to complete agnosticism, so the greatest of Arian emperors ultimately shed the last and thinnest pretense of Christianity; he abandoned even Arius and returned to Apollo. he was a Caesar of the Caesars; a soldier, a scholar, a man of large ambitions and ideals; another of the philosopher kings. It seemed to him as if at his signal the sun rose again. The oracles began to speak like birds beginning to sing at dawn; paganism was itself again; the gods returned. It seemed the end of that strange interlude of an alien superstition. It was the end of it, in so far as it was the fad of an emperor or the fashion of a generation, If there really was something that began with Constantine, then it ended with Julian." (Chesterton, The Everlasting Man, p. 146)

In a few paragraphs, Chesterton gives us all the historical highlights we need to toss out this old canard of an objection to Christianity and get on with defending the faith once and for all delivered to the saints. For it was in the face of an overwhelmingly popular heresy (Arianism) that Christianity continued to declare and defend the truth of the orthodox Christian faith over and above the lie that had taken over the world. Christians must do the same today, like Athanasian against the world. The devil's lies and cliches have overwhelmed us once again. What we - and the world need - is the same as it was in Athanasius's day: the truth of Christ in His life-giving, Spirit-filled Word, the truth of Christ poured over you in Baptism, the truth of Christ given and shed for you in the Sacrament of the Altar. And this Jesus and his gifts are the real thing, living and active for you.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Contradictions Don't Coexist

Thanks to Issues Etc. and Table Talk Radio we are far more aware of “bumper sticker theology” than we used to be. Religious positions are a dime a dozen, as are the cheap, never-gonna-scrape-that-off-your-bumper stickers you see on the road these days. Even John Lennon’s famous line has made it to fender fad fame: “Imagine no religion.” Yes, even this is a religious proposition.

If you were to make a game of it – call it bumper sticker bingo – chances are the one that comes up most often is this: coexist. I see it all the time here in the land of fruits and nuts. But all ad hominem attacks aside, there is a serious problem with this cliché canard. As much as you can sympathize with the motivation to “just get along” this is most illogical.

Christians are confronted with this dilemma all the time in the public square. I hear it on campus and in conversations with non-Christians all the time: “all religions are just the same; you know different parts under the hood but still the same car, you know.”

However, this objection to Christianity – or simply to any one holding any religious position – is one of the easiest to remove on your way to proclaiming Christ Crucified. You don’t even need Christianity (at least at the start) to make your case. All you need is a little logic. And as a brief aside, Luther was right in saying that reason was the devil’s whore when it comes to attempting to think your way into heaven, as if your brain was a new Tower of Babel. But Luther also held that reason is a gift of God to be used by men; in fact he held it in high regard when used properly, ministerially instead of magisterially. Remember your first article explanation…“my reason and all my senses.” That is something we need to remember in the apologetic task. Reason has a place, even a blessed one, in communicating the Christian faith and sorting out truth from error, as in the case of this bumper sticker.

It’s a simple logical fact. As John Warwick Montgomery states in the opening of his apologetic magnum, “The characteristic most fully shared by the religions of the world is their mutual incompatibility with each other” (Montgomery, Tractatus, Logico Theologicus, p.13).

There may be sociological similarities. There may even be common elements of truth shared among the religions of the world. For example, while many have different definitions of who should not be murdered and who is to be protected under the law it is clearly written on the heart that murder is wrong. Even though common activities and ceremonial parallels exist that does not in and of itself prove a common source or cause. In fact the world’s religions are mutually incompatible when it comes to their respective views on the following positions: man, the way of salvation, the goal and purpose of human life, the basis of authority, ethics and morality, and the origin of evil just to name a few.

A quick comparison between Islam’s and Christianity’s view on Jesus’ death reveals the same problem. Compare Sura 4:157, where the Qu’ran claims that Jesus was not crucified, with the Passion narrative of any of the four Gospels (not to mention hostile Roman and Jewish historians who corroborate the New Testament evidence by saying that he was crucified). They could both be wrong, but they can’t both be right. The better question is: which, if any of the world’s religions have overwhelming evidence in favor of their position? The answer I submit to you is this: Christ’s claim that he died and rose again.

While the Christian is called to speak the truth in love to the neighbor this does not include forsaking truth for a lie. Logically (let alone theologically) the coexist position is untenable, nonsensical and misleading. Of course, the atheist could be right: all the world’s religions could be false. That’s logically possible. But they cannot all be true.
As another famous Christian apologist once wrote: “There is a phrase of facile liberality uttered again and again at ethical societies and parliaments of religion: ‘the religions of the earth differ in rites and forms, but they are the same in what they teach.’ It is false; it is the opposite of the fact. The religions of the earth do not greatly differ in rites and forms; they do greatly differ in what they teach…Truth is, of course, that they are alike in everything except in the fact that they don’t say the same thing” (G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, p. 134-135).

Contradictions don’t coexist, not in logic, not in theology, not in apologetics and not in the real world. Thankfully, the Christian has more to offer than sound logic. We also have history, geography, archaeology as solid evidence for the Christian claim. We have eyewitnesses that saw Jesus dead on a Good Friday and alive again on Easter Sunday. We have an impeccably reliable and veracious written record in the Gospels that rivals any other document of historical nature from the 1st century A.D. Those words are spirit, life and good reporting. What’s more, we have the Lord of heaven and earth who took on human flesh and blood, who made himself tangible, knowable, and hearable in human time and history. He has not left us a record of contradictions in the Scriptures, but a witness to the Him who is the way, the truth and the life. Christianity offers comfort in the face of contradictions. Truth in the face of error. Life in the face of death.

So, I think I’ve finally found a new bumper sticker that I’d like to stick on my window. Hopefully it will get a conversation going; one that begins in logic and ends at the cross.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Sermon for 12th Sunday after Pentecost: "Chomping for Jesus"

+ 12 Sunday after Pentecost – August 19th, 2012 +
Series B, Proper 15, Proverbs 9:1-10; Ephesians 5:6-21; John 6:51-69
 In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

             There He goes again. As if this Bread of Life sermon wasn’t long enough, now he says that?! Sure, he’s said some harsh things before; said some things that offended a few people here and there. But never like this. Scandalous. Offensive. Jesus, you’ve gone too far this time. Look! Your mega-church crowds of 5000+ have dwindled to only 12. What exactly did Jesus say that got people so riled up?
            “I AM the Living Bread of heaven. If anyone eats this bread he will live forever. For the bread that I give for the life of the world is my flesh.” That’s quite the claim. But Jesus doesn’t stop there; there’s more. “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood you have no life in you.” And still more: “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him.”
            There was no problem with teaching Jesus, with demon-casting Jesus, with walking on water Jesus, with miracle working Jesus, with multiplying loaves and fishes Jesus. But a Jesus that talks about eating His flesh and drinking His blood to have eternal life and be raised up on the Last Day? No, thank you. They’d heard enough

            What about you? Want something better, more palatable, more satisfying to your spiritual taste buds? Do you want to leave when the teachings of Jesus get difficult, uncomfortable, make you uneasy or embarrassed or even squeamish? Do you get embarrassed to bring your friends to church or talk about your Christian faith with your neighbors for fear of something difficult Jesus says?
            Our sinful, self-oriented nature wants to check out so badly, to run away from these troubling words and back to safer ground. Could we maybe roll it back a little Jesus and pick up with the feeding of the 5000? We really liked that miracle. But a Jesus who speaks about eating His flesh and drinking His blood? Jesus’ words often make us uncomfortable…what if he actually means what he says?
            It would have been a lot easier if Jesus hadn’t said this. His sermon would’ve been more marketable, more sellable, more popular. Come to think of it, the whole NT would be easier if there weren’t so many hard sayings. Just scrub out a few miracles here, some hard sayings on sin and sexuality there, remove a few crosses and scandals and you’ve got yourself an easy Gospel. Wouldn’t that make the Christian life so much better?! People would flock to that kind of church. That kind of Gospel would be a sell-out hit.
            Repent. For a Christianity sterilized of Jesus’ hard sayings cuts away the heart of Christianity - the cross. Repent. For the life and comfort you seek in yourself and in your own words is a lifeless, empty, false hope. Not so with Jesus’ words, outrageous and scandalous though they are. “For the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life,” Jesus says.

            It’s true, Jesus’ words are hard, and his teachings aren’t always easy to understand. But there are two ways to respond. And those two responses are seen in the form of two questions to Jesus’ outrageous sermon.
            First there are the many disciples. “This is a hard saying, who can listen to it? Who can bear to hear this word? Who can follow this guy? This message? This claim? It’s too offensive.” Their reaction says it all.
            What really left a sour taste in their mouth was that little word feeds. Chews. Chomps. The action of this verb happens inside the mouth. There’s no scandal or offense in a symbolic or a spiritual meaning. And Jesus doesn’t recant his statements. Makes no attempt to soften the blow. “No, sorry, that was all just a big misunderstanding.” No, his Word stands. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him up on the last day.”
            And after this, many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with Him.

            Then there’s Peter and the 12. Gotta love Peter. The first to speak boldly, whether right or wrong. “Do you want to go away as well,” Jesus asks?
            “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
            That’s what faith in Christ sounds like. Clings to Jesus’ Words. Not because every word is easy to swallow or because we understand every word perfectly – but because Jesus’ Words are true. And Jesus’ Word is true because he died and rose again just as He promised. That’s good news for us who struggle with Jesus’ teaching; it’s truthfulness and doesn’t depend on us, but on him; His words are Spirit and Life.   For the boldness and certainty in Peter’s confession and our confession of faith is not found in ourselves, but in Christ.
            Peter didn’t know how Jesus would do what he said, how he would make good on his promise, how he would feed him with food that would make him live forever; but he trusted Jesus’ Words all the same. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the Words of eternal life.”

            And that same Word – that spirit-filled, life-giving Word – is the same Word that creates faith and trust in your hearts. So that when you hear: “Your sins are forgiven in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” –you respond: “Amen.”
            When Jesus says, “Take eat this is my body; take drink, this is my blood,” – you respond. Amen. Give us this bread always! Faith is always chomping for the chalice. Yearning for more of Jesus’ gifts.

            How you answer those two questions is a matter of life and death. Jesus’ sermon. Jesus’ teaching. Jesus’ gifts. Jesus’ sacraments – all a matter of life and death. Some turned away from Jesus. Some followed him to Jerusalem to the Upper Room, to the cross. To life eternal. For death can reach no further than Calvary.
            And there Jesus finally answers the questions: Peter’s, the crowds, ours. The world’s greatest offense – Christ Crucified – is also our greatest comfort. And his outrageous words are our greatest hope, just as they were for those disciples. Now finally, in that Upper Room and on the cross Jesus reveals how he will make good on his promises
            On that Thursday night Jesus finally answered the crowds’ question: “How can this man give us his flesh to eat? By dying and rising. By fixing his word of promise to visible, earthly, humble means. By pouring out his life-giving sacrifice into this life-giving meal.
            That same flesh that Jesus called bread in John 6 was raised up on the cross for the life of the world. His flesh is crucified, buried, dead, risen, ascended and present for you here at His Table. From the Upper Room to the cross to this altar, He gives his flesh for the life of the world.

            The Lord’s Supper pushes Christ’s incarnation all the way home. God doesn’t merely want to dwell with us in a spiritual sense – you know, hanging around with us and all that. But physically, tangibly, truly present among us. So He lays out bread and wine. True food and true drink. (the EC called it) The medicine of immortality. The only food and drink that brings the forgiveness of our sins, life, and salvation. Here Jesus abides in us and we in Him. We abide in Jesus by faith, and He abides in us by our eating and drinking His Body and Blood.
            Did the 12 fully comprehend what Jesus was saying that night? Do we? I’m sure you have your doubts. We all do. Doubt goes with believing things unseen, things that cannot be measured, examined, only believed. When your eyes and your ears don’t agree and you’re called to believe with your ears. So come and join Peter and bring all of your doubts, misgivings, uncertainties, questions, as well as your sin, your brokenness, your lostness, your death – bring all of that to the Lord’s Table. Bring all of you. Your whole life, your death, your fears, your anxieties. Bring them and let the Lord feed you with His words, with His Body and Blood, with the bread of life and the wine of heaven.     I know it sounds outrageous. I know it’s a scandal. But what a blessed one it is. So take Jesus at his word: “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him up on the last day.”                                           

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Lord, To Which Stream Shall We Go?

The wood was so still that it was not difficult to decide where the sound was coming from. It grew clearer ever moment and, sooner than she expected, she came to an open glade and saw the stream, bright as glass, running across the turf a stone's throw away from her. But although the sight of water made her fell ten times thirstier than before, she didn't rush forward and drink. She stood as still as if she had been turned into stone, with her mouth wide open. And she had a very good reason; just on this side of the stream lay the lion.

It lay with its head raised and two fore-paws out in front of it, like the lions in Trafalgar Square. She knew at once that it had seen her, for it eyes looked straight into hers for a moment and then turned away - as if it knew her quite well and didn't think much of her.

"If I run away, it'll be after me in a moment," thought Jill. "And if I go on, I shall run straight into its mouth." Anyway, she couldn't have moved if she had tried, and she couldn't take her eyes off it. How long this lasted, she could not be sure; it seemed like hours. And the thirst became so bad that she almost felt she would not mind being eaten by the lion if only she could be sure of getting a mouthful of water first.

"If you're thirsty, you may drink."

They were the first words she had heard since Scrubb had spoken to her on the edge of the cliff. For a second she stared here and there, wondering who had spoken. Then the voice said again, "If you are thirsty, come and drink," and of course she remembered what Scrubb had said about animals talking in that other world, and realized that it was the lion speaking. Anyway, she had seen its lips move this time, and the voci was not like a man's. It was deeper, wilder and stronger; a sort of heavy, golden voice. It did not make her any less frightened than she had been before, but it made her frightened in a different sort of way.

"Are you not thirsty?" said the Lion.
"I am dying of thirst," said Jill.
"Then drink," said the Lion.
"May I - could I - would yo mind going away while I do?" said Jill.

The Lion only answered this by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience. The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.

"Will you promise not to - do anything to me, if I do come?" said Jill.
"I make no promise," said the Lion.

Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer.

"Do you eat girls?" she said.
"I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms," said the Lion. It didn't say this as if it was boastin, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.

"I daren't come and drink" said Jill.
"Then you will die of thirst," said the Lion.
"Oh dear!" said Jill, coming another step nearer. "I suppose I must go and look for another stream then."
"There is no other stream," said the Lion. (C.S. Lewis, The Silver Chair, p. 20-22)

So went Jill Pole's first encounter with Aslan. And though she didn't say it, she very well could have echoed Peter's words from John 6: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." There is no other Word. There is no other stream. There is no other Lion. There is no other way, truth or life. For there is only one Name under heaven by which men are saved. Jesus, Name above all names. His Name saves. His Word saves.

Jesus places His Name and Word upon you in Baptism - a stream of living water; you are born of water and Spirit, you are buried and raised again to new life in Christ, with Christ by Christ.
Jesus feeds you in His Name and by His Word in the Lord's Supper - a crimson stream that flows from his riven side to the chalice to your mouth. Here is living bread. Here is a true food and drink. Here is Christ's blood shed for you, take drink and live forever. Jesus declares His Name and His promises to you in his terrifying yet quickening Word: Yes, you are a sinner and you are forgiven all your sins. Come, buy water and food without price. For the price has been paid by the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. No he is not tame, but he is good.

Lord, to which stream, to whom shall we go? There is no other stream. You fed and slaked the thirst of the Israelites by manna and rock and you feed us with Yourself. You have the Words, the waters, the body and blood of eternal life. And these Words are Spirit and Life.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A Top 12 for Higher Things 12

Daring to be Lutheran and having a blast while doing it. That’s what you’ll hear if you tune into Higher Things Radio. Which, you should by the way. Yes, the summer conferences are excellent. Yes, it’s a great week of worship, word and fun. But unlike the youth conferences I attended growing up, Higher Things doesn’t seek to strengthen and support the Christian faith of our youth by giving them a “mountain top” experience only to send them home where their congregation looks, sounds and acts much differently than what they just experienced. Higher Things works year-round to feed our youth and adults with more of the gifts of Jesus. They have a weekly radio program, they’re on Facebook, YouTube and an outstanding website packed with resources for youth and adults alike. Higher Things is more than a conference. Frankly, for me and my youth group, it’s a way of life. The summer conferences are just a great big bonus.
Quite simply, Higher Things brings youth to know the church, and brings the church to our youth. Higher Things gives them a solid Lutheran identity and brings the Lutheran confession and ethos – with all the richness of the history, doctrine and practice – back to the youth. Higher Things immerses our children in the richness of the Word of God, the confession of our faith and the worship life of the Church. Yes, I know Lutherans don’t always like that word, “immerse,” but it’s the perfect word to describe the kind of baptismal life that is fed, nourished and watered at Higher Things.

In this respect Lutheran youth work is easy. Give them Jesus. Give them Jesus in the hymns and liturgy of the church. They love it. Don’t let the adults in the church growth movement fool you. Our youth treasure the daily offices and hymns, even incense and other rites and ceremonies, especially when they are taught why we do what we do and say what we say in church. Give them Jesus in real, serious study of God’s Word. They don’t need topics watered down and frankly would be insulted if you tried to do that among them. They need to know how Lutherans think about hot-button issues of the day: abortion, homosexual marriage, dating, relationships, sex, other world religions and the like. What does God’s Word say about this? How do I deal with friends at school who challenge my faith? And a host of other questions get answered time and time again. And of course, give them Jesus in the care and love you express in community with one another. In a word, have fun. In three words this is what I’ve learned from Higher Things: worship, word and fun.

I’ve attended three conferences now with our youth here at Redeemer, HB. Each one has unique memories and joys. Each one has been better than the last. And at the end of each week I find myself looking forward to the next year. And guess what? So do the youth. “Pastor, when can we sing that hymn at church; can we have incense; when are we going to have Evening Prayer? Pastor, are we going to Tacoma next year for Higher Things?” And the list goes on. And as long as Higher Things continues to give our youth Jesus Crucified and his gifts – and I know that will be for a long time – we’ll keep coming back.

This year’s plenary sessions on a Christian’s view of death and dying were challenging to listen to, but helpful to shape our understanding in light of the Word of God and the comfort Jesus gives us. Thank you, Pastor Kurt Onken for bringing consolation and even a bit of humor to this topic. The plenary session on the end times by Dr. Steve Mueller was also outstanding. So many myths and wacky-wonky teachings are bombarding out kids out there today when it comes to Christ’s return. Thank you for a sober, sound and joyful way for us to hear and understand that it is good news that Jesus is coming again. The breakout sessions likewise covered a wide variety of topics. Next time you see a youth of your church that went to Higher Things, ask them what their favorite breakout session was. Chances are they’ll have a lot to say about it. I know ours did.

So, pastors, you should go to a Higher Things conference next summer and every summer afterwards if you can afford it. In all honesty it’s better than most pastors’ conferences you’ll go to anyway. Plus you get to hang out with your youth and get to know how they think and act. What in the world they do on their phones all day. What things challenge their faith and how to address them better as sheep of your flock. What they believe and confess. How they rejoice in Jesus’ gifts for them and you get to dare them to be Lutheran, while having a blast. Trust me; it’s worth the lack of sleep. You will get to know your kids better and they’ll know more about why you teach them the things you do.

Parents, consider going along as chaperones. I know, the kids don’t always think it’s “cool” to have mom or dad come along. But there’s no better way to build the bonds of family life together than to spend a week of worship, word and fun. Because secretly, your kids are glad you came even though they might never admit it. And even though you’ll be wiped out at the end of the week, you’ll have learned just as much as they have.

And last but not least, youth, if you haven’t gone to a Higher Things conference, bug, pester, harass (in Christian love) and poke your pastor or youth leader until they take you. There are plenty of locations to choose from next summer. And there’s plenty of good resources in the meantime.

At this year’s Higher Things conference, Twelve, I learned that this is more than a number in the Bible, albeit a very important number: Israel, prophets, disciples and the whole church. But 12 is what Jesus does. He does a 12 for his church. He completes us, calls, gathers and enlightens us. He “twelves” us into a holy people for his own possession. You are a member of the 12 tribes – the countless throng in Revelation 7 – because Christ has joined himself to you in your humanity, died your death, taken your sin and rose from the grave for you. So, dare to be Lutheran and have a blast while doing it. And here’s a glimpse of my week at Higher Things, a top twelve for Higher Things 12, in no particular order.

12. The sights, smells and sounds Concordia University Irvine.

11. Hearing things like this: “Pastor, thank you for giving us the Gospel”.

10. Learning from our youth how to dare to be Lutheran.

9. Serving at HT 12 as preacher at Vespers and presenter for two breakaway sessions.

8. The butter bandits…you know who you are and that was some good ole fashion prankster action.

7. Stay Lutheran, my friends.

6. Rain in July in Southern California…love it.

5. Listening to Lutheran youth sing hymns as I fall asleep.

4. Compline breaking out all over the resident halls.

3.  Lutheran youth of all ages (let the reader understand!) receiving Jesus’ gifts in the historic liturgy, and enjoying every sight, sound and smell of the daily offices and Divine Services.

2. The communion of saints, a true foretaste of heaven.

1. “Learning about Jesus for 2 hours really makes me hungry” – quote by one Redeemer youth.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Sermon for 11th Sunday after Pentecost: "You Are What You Eat"

11th Sunday after Pentecost – August 12, 2012
Guest preaching @ Grace Lutheran, San Diego
Series B, proper 14: 1 Kings 19:1-8; Epheisans 4:17-5:2; John 6:35:51

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.
What kind of bread? White? Wheat? 7,8 or 12 grain? Russian rye? Pumpernickel? Sourdough? Ciabatta? French Baguette? Roasted Garlic? How about bran muffins? Hmm fiber! You just might live longer. Maybe. But not forever.
            Well then, what about that Old Testament stuff. You know, manna. What is it? Manna. (get it?). Bread from heaven – true angel-food cake. Anyone got the recipe? No didn’t think so.
            Or what about those five barley loaves that Jesus used to feed the five thousand? There were twelve baskets full of leftovers. What happened to them? Pull those scraps out of the freezer! Surely that bread . . . !
            No, none of that will do. We can garnish it with poppy seeds, dip it in olive oil or cover it in home-made strawberry jam. Call it artisan, organic or fresh-baked. But (as good as it tastes) bread is still the food of the Fall.
            "Cursed is the ground because of you … by the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread until you return to the ground…for dust you are and to dust you shall return."
            Welcome to Adam’s Bakery where the food is perishing and so are the customers. No refrigerator or freezer can stop Genesis 3. The curse…not carbs – that’s the problem. Adam ate more than forbidden fruit. Adam swallowed the curse of sin and. You are what you eat, we say. Or rather, you are what Adam ate: disobedience, curse, death.

            It’s an eating disorder on a cosmic scale. Not to dismiss or make light real, physical eating disorders. But there are spiritual eating disorders too. And our sinful nature is up on all the latest fads. Whatever is pleasing to the eye, tickles the spiritual taste-buds.
            Some try going weeks or months without reading the Scriptures, going to Bible class, praying, receiving Christ’s body and blood. The Word and Sacrament starvation diet is just as bad for your Christian life as avoiding food is for your bodily health. Skip enough meals and we get weak and sick and die.
            Other Churches offer Happy Meals instead of the Bread of Life, entertainment instead of the Lamb’s High Feast, spiritual junk-food instead of the solid meat and potatoes of Jesus’ teaching. No wonder people are starving and fed up: many churches look more like the food court at the Del Mar fair than the banqueting table of our Lord.
            Our old Adam would be much happier if Jesus had said: “I am the Pat and Oscars Buffet of Life”: have whatever you want, as much as you want, when you want it.  Have it your way.”
            But Adam’s bread will not satisfy your hunger. Adam’s flesh will not avail you. Adam died. Israel ate manna in the wilderness and they died. Elijah wasn’t far from the truth when he sat under that broom tree and prayed that he might die. And we need to die. Drop dead in Jesus. Die to sin and self. Die to the Law. Die to our belly gods. But in fact, you’ve already died and you die daily. In Baptism. Dying and rising. Drown your old Adam and your new nature feasts on Christ. That’s Baptism: you’re all washed and ready for the Supper. Ready for the dinner call:
             “I am the Bread of Life.”For with those words, the pages of the OT flutter and blur together. Here is the recipe waiting for its main ingredient. The OT isn’t like a reading some Where’s Waldo Book: Is Jesus here? There? He’s all of it. Jesus was Israel. Jerusalem. The temple, the sacrifice, the priest and the priesthood. He was Joshua leading the exiles to the Promised Land. He was their food and drink in the wilderness, their viaticum – food for the journey from death to life.
            Here was the Garden treachery, the wilderness exile, the countless Passovers and the temple sacrifices. All of it – the manna, the altar, the blood, the roasted meat – the OT sacrifices find their fulfillment in Christ’s final Sacrifice and Christ’s life-giving, eternal Sacrament. Adam’s bread is death. Jesus is your living Bread.

            Now this is either the height of arrogance and lunacy or Jesus really means what He says and it’s true. He really is the Bread of Life. He really is sent by the Father. And anyone who looks on Him, on his death and resurrection and believes will have eternal life. And he will raise them up on the last day.
            No wonder the crowds were scandalized. It wasn’t their stomach’s grumbling for more bread, but their hardened hearts unwilling to see Jesus as more than a Bread King. We know his father (or so they thought!) We know his mother. That’s the carpenter’s son. How can he call himself the bread that comes down from heaven?
            It’s the scandal (and real meaning of) Christmas:  Incarnation. God became man, a flesh and blood human being. It’s not palatable to our reason, our senses, our religious sensibilities. But if you take away the flesh and blood of Jesus – make him something other than God and man, something other than the Word become flesh – then you take away the flesh and blood of Christianity. Everything Jesus does, He does as God and man for you. That’s why the early church called Mary, Theotokos, the God-bearer, mother of God.
            From her womb comes the flesh and blood of God made Man come to save your flesh and blood from the grave.  The flesh that lived in Mary’s womb for 9 months born that you might become children of God. The flesh that was baptized in the Jordan into your death and sin that you might be baptized into his death and resurrection. The flesh that was crucified, pierced, dead, laid in a tomb that you might be raised up on the last day. The flesh that did what the first Adam couldn’t do: rise from the dead. Overthrow the curse. Defeat death and the grave. He does it all for you.

            That’s the difference between Christianity and all other religions: in all the world religions you must work, earn, be worthy, sacrifice yourself to god. But Christ promises to work and earn salvation by his sacrifice for you.
            In the religions of the world you feed the gods and they feed on you. But in Christianity, God invites you to feed on himself and he gives his life to feed yours. Not work, a gift. Not your sacrifice, but his.  
            There on the cross Jesus eats death. He swallows it up by letting death swallow him whole. Buried. Dead. Like a seed in the ground waiting to sprout. And the grave choked on this seed. Death couldn’t hold him down. The grave coughed him up like Jonah, spit him out after three days. Jesus is the Lord of the dead and the living. Resurrection. New life. New creation.
            Jesus is the New Adam and he’s is more interested in feeding you than himself.
By the sweat and blood of his brow, He labored under the weight of our sin; he suffered and wrestled with thistle and thorn on the cross. He returned to the dust of the earth. And swallowed Adam’s bread of death in order to give you Living Bread and raise you up in his resurrection.

            Ordinary bread you eat to your death. Even the manna in the wilderness didn’t save Israel. Won’t save us either. Jesus’ bread is anything but ordinary: “If anyone eats of this bread he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
            Jesus didn’t merely say he was bread but that His flesh was bread. In John 6 he points to his flesh and says it’s bread. Later, on the night of his betrayal, he took the bread and says it’s his flesh.
            Ordinary bread becomes sacred, for in Christ’s incarnation the sacred becomes ordinary. The Christ present and hidden in Mary’s womb is the same Christ present and hidden in the Sacrament.
            In Jesus’ words that he was the bread of life come from heaven, Incarnation and Sacrament are merged into one. Humanity banned from paradise, could only find its hope for survival in bread that came from the ground, the same ground Adam came from and the same ground he and his descendants would return to.
            But Jesus does something completely different. Jesus takes the food of the Fall and redeems it. He takes ordinary, earthly bread and makes it something extraordinary and heavenly: His Body given into death for your life. Jesus gives His Body for bread in His Supper.  Instead of Adam’s death, you receive Jesus’ life.  In place of a curse he grants blessing.
            Now when you come to the Supper you receive the true unleavened bread of the Passover.  The true bread of Christ’s presence. True priestly bread, sacrificed and broken for you. True Manna from heaven, living food for dead sinners. Arise. Eat. Eat this Bread and you will live forever.

For with this food, you really are what you eat.

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Christmas in August with Chesterton

God in a box. God in a cave. God in human flesh. God is neither too dignified nor civilized to ignore his creation. He likes matter; he created it. Even before the fall into sin it appears that "walking in the cool of the garden" - whatever that may have looked or sounded like - was simply an excuse for him to be in his creation. Forgive the crass illustration but perhaps it's not unlike a young boy who spends hours and days and weeks building the finest creation Lego bricks have ever seen, only to want to become a part of his own creation, to crawl into the world his mind has made in imagination. Perhaps creation is like that only real, and infinitely better. Because Genesis 3 is but a shadow. John 1 gives us the light and the flesh. In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God...and the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us. For John also would write later that the dwelling place of God is with man (Revelation 21). This is why we live - because Christ is one of us, one with us and for us in his life, death and resurrection. This is why the church lives - for we receive our very life - are fed and nourished - by this God in human flesh who feeds us with his flesh. For he is the life of the world.

Christ is, as Chesterton calls him in this famous book, the Everlasting Man. And yet he is also very much a man. Flesh of your flesh and bone of your bone. As I have been reading The Everlasting Man it is as if the reader is drawn out of the cave of man's errant philosophical and mythological patterns into the light, albeit the light of another cave. Not one lit from the outside but from within. A cave that is the dwelling place of man...and God. The cave (as Chesterton calls it) of Bethlehem. So, why not celebrate a little Christmas in August with Chesterton!

This sketch of the human story began in a cave; the cave which popular science  associates with the cave-man and in which practical discovery has really found archaic drawings of animals. The second half of human history, which was like a new creation of the world, also begins in a cave. There is even a shadow of such fancy in the fact that animals were again present; for it was a cave used as a stable by the mountaineers of the uplands about Bethlehem; who still drive their cattle into such holes and caverns at night. It was here that a homeless couple had crept underground with the cattle when the doors of the crowded caravans had been shut in their faces; and it was here beneath the very feet of the passerby, in a cellar under the very floor of the world, that Jesus Christ was born. But in that second creation there was indeed something symbolical in the roots of the primeval rock or the horns of the prehistoric herd. God was also a CaveMan, and, had also traced strange shapes of creatures, curiously coloured upon the wall of the world; but the pictures that he made had come to life. (G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man, p. 105)

Monday, August 6, 2012

Sermon for 10th Sunday after Pentecost: "Bread is Life"

+ 10th Sunday after Pentecost - August 5th, 2012 +

Series B, Proper 13: Exodus 16:2-15; Ephesians 4:1-16; John 6:22-35

            In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

            Reading John 6 is sort of like taking a long cross-country trip: you have to chart your course carefully, visit each landmark along the way, after all, Jesus gives us a lot to chew on in this text and cover one leg of the trip at a time.

            Today John starts where last week’s reading from Mark left off, the teaching after the feeding of the 5000; it’s first leg in the journey of John 6.
           Israel needed food in the wilderness. And the Lord provided: manna in the morning; quail in the evening. Enough for each day and nothing to waste. Any leftovers became worm-food.
            The crowds following Jesus needed food and Jesus provided: barley loaves and fish enough for leftovers that were also gathered up so they would not perish.
            We’re no different. Anyone who’s taken a road trip knows that food for the journey is vital. Where and what are you going to eat? How much food should I pack? Nobody wants to be stuck in that car when the kids get hungry.

            If you want to know what hunger is like, just look at a child who’s past their meal time. You can rock the child. Talk to the child. Scold the child. Nothing works. The child only wants food. It will not be consoled. 

            So too, a hunger in the soul can only be filled by Christ. We are inconsolable until we are filled by Him. “Our hearts are restless O Lord until we find our rest in Thee,” St. Augustine once remarked.

             But that wasn’t the reason the crowds were following Jesus. They only wanted more miracles, more bread. Crown Jesus the Bread King. Our Vending Machine Who art in heaven. Left to our own devices we’d only pray the 4th petition of the Lord’s Prayer. We’re always hungry and yet we’re never satisfied with our Lord’s menu; we’d rather be the cook in our own kitchen; have it your way.

            But Jesus is on to us and the crowds. Grumbling wasn’t really the problem. He’s a big God; he won’t be offended by your complaints. The real problem is unbelief. The crowds have no faith; no trust. Sure He gives bread but is that all you want or ask of him? Because that’s not all He has to give the crowds…or you.

            Jesus will not be crowned Bread King, at least not in this kind of bread and not on this hillside. “You are seeking me because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for food that perishes but for the food that endures to eternal life.”

            There are two kinds of food according to Jesus: Food you work for, and food which is given. Food that perishes, and food that endures to eternal life. You know the first kind of food all too well. That’s one reason you go to work, to put bread on the table.

            This bread goes back to the Fall in the Garden in Genesis: “From the sweat of your brow you will eat your bread until you die.” Now it wasn’t always that way. In the beginning, food was fruits and nuts, gifts freely plucked off of trees where nothing dies. There was the tree of life: eat and live forever. In the beginning it was all gifts and no work.
            But disobedience and death changed the ecology and the diet. No more fruits and nuts, now bread, food you work for, work that eventually kills you. Farming stubborn, rocky soil. Fighting weeds, climate, bugs. Grinding grain. Kneading dough. Baking bread. Work, work, work. No whistling, just a lot of sweat and pain and toil. Sales quotas, production schedules, budget constraints, government regulations, unreliable suppliers, dishonest business partners, lawyers, cranky customers, mean bosses, lazy workers, endless piles of paperwork and TPS reports.

            And if the work isn’t hard enough, you’re fighting a losing battle. Our food mirrors the world we live in: death and decay. That’s why you have refrigerators and freezers. You don’t see hearses pulling u-haul trailers. We labor for food that perishes to feed our perishing bodies.
            It’s true; we need to eat. Jesus wasn’t chastising the crowds for being hungry. Food and healing for their bodies is good – it serves a purpose – but only for a time – and then it spoils. But that isn’t the only food we need according to Jesus. Jesus wants MORE for them and you: food that doesn’t spoil; something that “endures to eternal life.”

            Imagine that – something that doesn’t go bad. Food that doesn’t spoil. Cars that don’t breakdown. Relationships that don’t shatter. Children that don’t misbehave. Homes that don’t break apart. A body that doesn’t get cancer, grow weary or die.

            Who wouldn’t want that? How do we get that food, Jesus? Give us a grocery list; show us the recipe! “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 

              “The work of God is this: that you believe in Him who He has sent.” Have you guessed which kind of food this is? The kind you work for or the kind that is given? The one that perishes or the one that leads to eternal life?

            We desperately want to say: “the kind we work for.” The crowds did too. But that’s not the kind of food Jesus is giving us here. No amount of sweat equity or dirt under your nails or work is going to get you any further out of your grave.

            Oh, there’s plenty of work to be done; but it’s all been done for you. Christ plants gathers the grain, then adds water, Word and His Spirit, and you rise like a well-leavened loaf of bread. Christ is your farmer, your baker and your cook.

            Faith is God’s work, and it is the one work that is well-pleasing to God, to believe in His Son. It’s a gift. Given and living. And that’s the second kind of food. The one that Jesus really wants to give. He is our Bread. The Bread of life. Unmerited. Unearned. Unrewarded. Gift. Grace.
             “What sign will you give us,” they ask, “that we should trust you. Moses had bread from heaven, what you do have, Jesus?”  It’s true, Moses gave them bread from heaven; but the people of Israel still died. Jesus has something to satisfy their hungry souls and ours. “I am the Bread of Life. Whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever trusts in me shall never thirst.” Jesus is the bread of life, come down from heaven to give his life for the life of the world.

            The Bread of life is born, of all places, in Bethlehem, the house of Bread. For years he grows and rises like dough until the appointed time. And then Jesus, the Bread of Life is baked - in the fiery furnace of God’s wrath against our sin and in the burning heat of His passion to save His fallen creation. Like wheat ground up by the mill and put into the fire, Jesus endured the cross bearing our sin in order to be our Food, the Source of life.

            We can relate to the Israelites: stuck in the wilderness, hungry, weary, longing for the promised land, yearning for the end of the journey. We can relate to the crowd. We need Jesus to provide. And Jesus gives us more than we need.      

            For you who are you starved by your sin, drenched in the sweat of your brow and covered in the dust that you shall return to – for you Christ comes to feed you with himself. Jesus is your food for the journey. Christ labors and works, dies and rises in order to give you true food that will never perish. Bread of blessing for your journey through this wilderness.

            And so the same words that began the feeding of the 5000 also begin the Lord’s Supper, “Jesus gave thanks” and then he gives; he feeds; he breaks bread for broken sinners, for you. There’s always more at the Lord’s Table. That’s what He wants to give you. Bread is Life because Jesus has filled it with himself. Christ has gone ahead of you on the road. To the cross. Through the grave and into the resurrection.  Now He gives His flesh as bread for the life of the world and bids His us to eat, to live off of His sacrificial death, to draw our sustenance not from our own works but from His perfect work.
            “Lord give us this food always.” And he does. You want the food of Jesus. Don’t labor for that which perishes. For man does not live by bread alone but by every Word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. The food and drink of God is Jesus himself. Jesus’ Word. Jesus in your Baptism. Jesus in the Absolution. Jesus in the Supper.

            So come and wash Adam’s cursed dirt and sweat off your foreheads in the waters of your Baptism. Come and eat Jesus' bread of life at his table, where Christ’s mercy never perishes. His forgiveness never spoils. His righteousness has no expiration date. His love never decays or molds. He feeds you without limit. Without price. Abundantly. Graciously.

            Jesus is true manna from heaven. Jesus is food to satisfy your deepest hunger. Jesus is your daily bread. Not the bread of the curse but the bread of blessing. Not food that perishes. Jesus gives us the best food, living food – Himself. Eat and drink and be merry. For He lives and so do you. Jesus is your bread of life, food for this leg of the journey and the next.

            In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.